Skating is legs, legs, legs! - Importance of Strength & Balance in Skating
It has been said that hockey is ballet on ice and that a player’s center of gravity changes 5,000 times during the course of a game. A player stands on a ⅛ th inch blade that only touches the ice, and any given point with ¾ inch to ½ inches of the blade in contact with the ice surface. Imagine the moving forces of a human body at high rates of speed trying to avoid the opposition, similar to an obstacle course on an off road track. Now couple that with handling a puck through this course with the intention of making a shot on net or a pass to a teammate.
Over the past 45 years of playing, coaching, instructing, and scouting I have changed my mind on what it takes to learn and be a good skater. When my son was in his formative years I tried teaching by example with descriptive words. “Watch me push off”, “hold your back straight with your head up”, “bend your knees”, “get lower”, were just some of the instructions given during many on ice sessions. Little did I know, he was simply not strong enough, nor did he have the balance to execute these commands.
Skating is legs, legs, legs! Having a strong lower body and developing great balance is essential. Telling that to a 5 or 6 year old seems insane, but that is exactly what I found myself doing. I had taught older kids skating technique, but I had never taught such a young player until my son got the bug to learn how to skate and play this great game of hockey.
It wasn’t until I invented an off-ice skating device that slowed down the steps to proper skating technique did I really understand the importance of strength & conditioning. Oh sure, I understood it as a coach of a midget team, or in the scouting ranks seeking out elite players, but I was never challenged to transfer my skating knowledge to such a young player before.
What the machine provided was a platform to isolate and slow down the process in a far less unstable environment. My son quickly improved his strength in his lower body to be able to execute these movements of ballet on ice.
Lack of balance and strength is the number one culprit to many player’s skating skills.
Balance is controlled by your core or trunk muscles (back and abdomen), and by your glutes (butt) through to your thighs, knees, and ankles. Asking a young player to squat or get lower in their skating takes all of these muscles to fire in sequence in order to function accordingly, and if they cannot support such a movement due to a lack of strength, it becomes an impossible task.
We parents and coaches have forgotten the struggles we had when we started skating. How many remember the challenges to learning how to ride a bike and how many times we fell. I certainly don’t but my parents could tell all the trials, tribulations and sometimes tears until I learned.
If you can’t skate, you can’t play the game.
Great hockey players are finely tuned athletes with great training and conditioning with sculpted muscles for power, speed, agility, and explosiveness reaching peak performance on command even under fatigue. Their skating has become subconscious as they maneuver down the ice cutting, turning, spinning, hitting, passing, shooting at high rates of speed.
Over the years of instructing, quite often ask players “what goes around a corner faster, a UPS Truck or a Corvette”? Of course they all know and answer – “a Corvette”. Then I ask “why”? “Because it is lower to the ground and won’t tip over”.
All young skaters start skating in an upright position making it difficult to move or withstand bumps without a fear of falling. We have all witnessed a squirt game which seems to be a demolition derby on ice with casualties at every encounter. Why is that? We all think it is because they haven’t learned to balance on skates, when in fact they do not have the skill and strength to move around the ice with a lower profile. The reason for this is that they simply are not strong enough.
To understand this better try squatting in the middle of the floor like you are pretending to sit on a toilet, and when you are in this position, transfer your weight forward, backward and side to side and see how much stress is on your joints. To maintain this position you must bend at your ankles, knees, hips and back holding muscle strength.
Skating is the most important skill in hockey – “if you can’t skate, you can’t play the game”. Younger players struggle because they lack the strength more than they lack the technique. You need the strength around your joints and in your lower body to be able execute the movement and then you need to work on technique. What the PowerSkater does is help you build up your strength in conjunction with proper technique – the best of both worlds.
Written by Ron Bulloch
Ron Bulloch hails from a small town in Western, Manitoba. Ron has dedicated the past 40 years of his life to learning, perfecting, and coaching skating mechanics from the grass roots to pro athletes. He’s achieved his Level 5 Masters in Coaching with USA Hockey and has been a keynote speaker around the world on skating philosophy, going on to invent several sport-specific training products, including the PowerSkater. Ron was inducted in the Indiana Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018.